“Signs of God’s Reign” A Devotion on Matthew 15: 30,31.

“Great crowds came to Jesus, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.” —Matthew 15:30,31.

When the early church heard about the healings that Jesus had done they understood them as signs that the long awaited reign of God had begun in him.

His healings echoed the prophecy of Isaiah, when he said, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.” (Isaiah 35:5,6)

Each week we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And whether we call it God’s kingdom, God’s reign, or God’s realm, it exists wherever God’s will is enacted. In other words, to pray “Thy kingdom come” means the same thing as “Thy will be done,” because wherever God’s will is done, God’s kingdom has come.

It’s a radical prayer since it takes the focus away from our self and on to God. To pray that God’s will be done, is to acknowledge that it is not all about what we want.

The reign of God that was inaugurated by Jesus is still transforming the world, albeit often quietly and out of the headlines.

Where are the signs of God’s reign in your life? Where are the signs of God’s reign in our world?

Prayer: Your will be done, O God, on earth as it is in heaven. We pray for the restoration of our world and the coming of your reign, in the name of Jesus our Savior.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotion for September 8, 2018. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the UCC Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here. Picture: EL Greco. “Jesus Healing the Blind Man” Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

“No Doubts? I Doubt it!” A Devotion on James 1: 5-8

“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” —James 1:5-8

Martin Luther didn’t care much for the Letter of James. He called it “the Epistle of Straw” and suggested that it be removed (along with the Book of Revelation) from the Christian canon.

He objected to its emphasis on “works” in opposition to Paul’s emphasis on “grace.” And there is a bit of a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” feel to many of James’ words.

For example, in today’s reading he admonishes his readers to never doubt. I have known a few believers in my life who say they never doubt, and I admire them for that. Perhaps the absence of doubt requires a special personality type, or it might be a particularly effective form of self-deception.

But for me, and I am guessing for most of us, our faith exists in the midst of doubt. I take comfort in the belief that my relationship with God is founded on God’s initiative and not on my shaky faith. This keeps me from preoccupation with my various states of mind, and the regular taking of my spiritual temperature.

Still, I’ll give James his due that doubt should be avoided. Although I can’t rid myself of doubts by some Promethean act of personal will, I can ignore them as much as possible. And I do.

Prayer: I believe, O God. Help my unbelief.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotion for August 30, 2018. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the UCC Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here)

“God’s Righteousness and Ours” A Devotion on Psalm 111:2-3

“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is God’s work, and God’s righteousness endures forever.”—Psalm 111:2-3

The concept of “righteousness” was important to Ancient Israel’s self-understanding of their covenant with God. The Hebrew word usually translated as righteousness could also mean integrity, justice, prosperity or wholeness. Righteousness was both an attribute belonging to God, and the order of things that God put into place for the well being of Israel.

There were two contesting schools of thought about Israel’s special covenant with God. There were those who believed that God’s choosing of Israel was unconditional and could never be revoked.

The other opinion, associated with the prophets, was that Israel’s election came with the responsibility to manifest God’s righteousness in the life of their society.

And the prophets’ test for national righteousness was how it treated the most vulnerable of its citizens. In patriarchal Israel the most vulnerable were widows and orphans, who had no male to give them status or protect them. Other vulnerable people were foreign migrants, who had no claim to the land. And finally, as in every society, the poor were vulnerable. Whenever this collection of “the last, the least and the lost” were being mistreated it called into question the integrity and identity of national life.

This idea of societal righteousness was important to our Puritan ancestors, and, though it has never been fully realized, remains in the DNA of American identity. For example Dr. King powerfully employed this Biblical notion in his plea to our national conscience during the struggle for civil rights.

A pressing question for our time is this: can the soul of a nation be considered sound if it mistreats its most vulnerable members?

Prayer: You are righteous, O God. Pour out your righteousness on our troubled land, that our national soul may be healed.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotion for August 16, 2018. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the UCC Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here)

“Everyday Virtue” A Devotion on Hebrews 13:18

“Pray for us; we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.” —Hebrews 13:18

People frequently conflate religion with morality, as if they were the same thing. When we are children we imagine that if we are good, God will reward us. But the Christian faith insists that God loves us as we are. As Paul put it: “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Continue reading

“The False God SUCCESS” A Devotion on 1 Corinthians 4:10-13

“God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.”

—1 Corinthians 4:10-13 Continue reading